“CORTLANDT — Indian Point is a top priority for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the agency will work more closely with local officials to prevent a terrorist attack and save lives in the event of a radiation release, a key agency executive said yesterday.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ranked Indian Point “in terms of potential human consequences as the No. 1 site in the nation,” said Robert Stephan, Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for infrastructure protection. “My guys are here to make sure that we’re driving interaction and planning among the various jurisdictions involved. That’s what it takes to solve these problems.”
Stephan and members of his staff met with local emergency and elected officials for a daylong summit at Cortlandt Town Hall yesterday, designed to heighten Homeland Security’s understanding of the region’s concerns about a potential emergency at Indian Point.
Stephan arrived a day after Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns Indian Point, released new well test results from a radioactive leak that has local officials more nervous than usual about having nuclear plants in their backyard.
Entergy said Tuesday that strontium 90, a byproduct of plutonium and uranium, was found in concentrations three times the federal limits for drinking water, about 50 yards from the Hudson River. It is the only such leak at any of the nation’s 103 working nuclear plants. The company also has found tritium and nickel 63, two other radioactive isotopes.
The isotope leaks were part of yesterday’s discussions, participants said, but the focus of the day was on what happens “outside the fence,” as Homeland Security labels the off-site area.
Before he attended the meeting, Stephan said in an interview with The Journal News that his agency recognized the need to improve interaction with county and town emergency planners and hoped to achieve that by combining its security and emergency preparation divisions.
“That creates some synergies,” said the retired U.S. Air Force colonel, who added emergency preparedness to his responsibilities a few months ago. “We recognized that we had too much compartmentalized planning going on. The No. 1 thing I learned from (Hurricane) Katrina is that there has to be integrated contingency planning.”
Jim Steets, an Entergy official who attended the meeting, said the company was interested to hear the discussion, but its primary responsibility for safety is on-site.
Rep. Sue Kelly, R-Katonah, organized the meeting and asked for a direct line of communication with Homeland Security’s local personnel and another summit meeting on emergency planning.
“Having someone who’s there — who’s familiar with us — is really important,” Kelly said to a gathering of reporters during a midday break.
Kelly said she also asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is under Stephan’s control, to work more closely with state and local officials, and called for a Cortlandt-based exercise to test preparation plans.
Stephan, who oversees about 400 people and a $300 million budget, said the agency has moved more staff into the field in New York to build closer relationships and help improve communication.
“If there were no Indian Point power plant, I would still be up here … because of the geographic risk associated with New York City,” Stephan said. “Because of its population, New York City is always No. 1 or No. 2 on our list. It goes back and forth with Washington, D.C.”
Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, who said he was blunt in his comments to Stephan, found some comfort in the federal agency’s promise to get closer to the ground in its planning and involvement and to streamline its operations.
“That’s what the problem has been — this silo mentality that has guys doing something over here and others doing something over there, and all they do is communicate by memo,” Vanderhoef said. “This was impressive because we’re talking to one of the top guys in security, and he recognizes Indian Point’s importance. He also understands that we need to build the confidence of our residents.”
Larry Schwartz, Westchester County’s deputy county executive, said getting Homeland Security officials to visit was important, just as it will be to have them return.
“They have to be here to see what happens during rush hour,” Schwartz said. “The key here will be the follow-up.”
Stephan said his organization’s primary responsibility is to provide resources as much as possible and make sure that gaps in planning that crop up at jurisdictional borders don’t get overlooked. He said Homeland Security would have about $50 million in one pot of grants this year that the agency will try to direct in larger chunks based on potential impact to the largest number of people, which should help the Indian Point region.
Previous allotments were spread too thinly, Stephan said.
The federal government has other resources besides money, Stephan said, such as sophisticated computer modeling that can take fast-breaking data from a radiation release, for example, and within minutes calculate impact using wind direction and speed and a host of other information that locals should be able to collect quickly.
Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi thanked Kelly for orchestrating the meeting.
“I can’t think of anything more important that we as public and private officials can do to help to secure the safety of our families and residents in our community,” Puglisi said.
Public welcome at 2 meetings
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have two public meetings Tuesday at Crystal Bay on the Hudson at Charles Point Marina in Peekskill.
• A 2:30 p.m. meeting will address the agency’s annual assessment of Indian Point’s operations.
• A 6:30 p.m. meeting is planned to focus on the leak in the spent-fuel pool.“
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